A letter to Kamala

Dear Kamala,

It has been exactly 23 years since you left me. And every minute of those years I have missed you. I have missed your smile, I have missed your grace, I have missed your words that were always the ones I needed to hear. I have memories of you that go way back to when I was still a child, memories of walking holding your hand in new cities, under sun or rain, discovering new sites and I remember how you never tired of the million of questions I asked. You always answered them with a smile. Yes your smile, that incredible wand that made the darkest moment into a sun drenched one. I remember how you were always there for me be I a child or a middle aged woman. It is in your arms and at your feet that I found every answer I needed and healed every hurt from the scraped knee to the harshest blow. You were always there to soothe away any grief or pain your child had suffered.

You wanted an army of kids, you only got one! For the 38 years we lived together you made me feel loved at every instant, even when I threw a childish  tantrum or behaved unpardonably. I feel tiny and shamefaced when I recall some of those instants, specially those when I was grown up!

We lived together for 38 years + nine months, and each of those years, months and days were blessed. This year I too have been a mother for 38 years. But I can tell you now without hesitation that I was and could not be a mother like you! And somewhere it is because you were too perfect a mom! Having married late and lived a difficult yet extraordinary childhood and young womanhood, where you broke so many social mores to get your way, you became a mother who could bring to her child innumerable and astounding examples of life. You were the woman who had battled every more and tradition to not accept marriage before your country became independent as you were part and parcel of the fight for Independence being a  freedom fighter's daughter. In times were women were still in purdah you were the one who had to apply homemade balm on the lacerated backs of your father and his camarades in arm. I think if was that terrifying experience for a child that made you decide not to have yours before India became free. You did not want to bear a 'slave' child. You would rather remain an old maid. But you had made a sacred pact with your father: should you still be of marriageable age you would marry any man your father chose for you. And you did even if it meant leaving your home and loved ones in an age where communication across the world were in their infancy. I married the man I chose and ensured that I live close to you and when my husband was posted out of India and I was unwilling to make the move, you scripted a act that would make things easier for your precious child: you left with papa for a European holiday and made you sure that your last port of call was the place we were in.

You were the woman who had to battle to get educated. Your father would have, like all fathers happily stopped your studies in class VI, if there were any studies at all. If I remember well, you told me that in those days girls were put to test by potential in laws. The 'tests' were  whether the would be bride knew simple arithmetic, whether she could talk - lest she be deaf and dumb - whether she could sing devotional songs, whether she could read the holy scriptures or more often whether she knew them by rote. That would have been the sum all of your education had you played by the rules. But you were made of some other mettle. The first school for girls  opened in the small mofussil town where you lived. The two exceptional assets you had were your mom and your paternal grandmother both born women's libbers and what I would call your education drama in umpteen acts began. Needless to say you were Roll no 1 in the said school and your Gandhian methods of fasting (while you were fed at nigh by your two partners in crime) ensured you pass your class whether she could sing devotional songs, go for your Bachelor's degree to Benares Hindu University and live in a hostel, secure your MA, LLB and a PHD in Prague. My education came on a silver tray as everything else in my life. The best schools across the world, the best Governesses, the best of everything. But what you did manage to make me understand was the importance of education, specially for women. Something I always remembered and valued and perhaps the first seed of what awaited me when you would not be there with me.

My life was replete with amazing and unique lessons that would take volumes to recount if I were to do you justice. Maybe I will some day. The one I very often recall is how you stopped me from leaving food in my plate and wasting it. You who had known hunger and want at a tiny age could not see your child not value food. You had to teach an Ambassador's daughter the pains of hunger pangs. You did. You just kept the food I had left in the plate in the refrigerator and placed it cold and congealed in front of me for all subsequent meals. Being stubborn and spoilt it took 3 days fro me to break and believe me when I tell you that never did a morsel taste so good. What I came to know much later was that you and Pa had not eaten for those fateful days. You would be appalled and saddened so see how much food is wasted today whilst millions sleep hungry in the country you fought for.

I could go on and on as memories of you are so easy to recall.

You died on the 13th June 1990. But you somehow knew that I would need you again years later to show me the way and heal my hurt. You knew that one of the ways I dealt with hurt and anger was to turn the house upside down and go on a cleaning spree. On one of those occasions I stumbled upon a diary you must have written in the last year of your life when your knew you were losing what you cherished the most: your mind! You scribbled feverish words that you knew I would read at the appropriate time. I did find the diary and it was as if you had guessed everything about my morrows. But that was not all. You shared your pain and in some ways shattered many images that I had held as true as you had always put up a smiling face for your child be it when you sat in a car after a major crash with all your bones broken or when my father hurt you because he loved you too much. Love can sometimes be so smothering and even hurtful. I thank you for sharing that pain with me even if it was after you were gone. I wrote you a letter last year on this very day to share what I felt reading those poignant words.

I have strived to be worthy of you mama. I guess I will know the truth when we meet. I know we will.

Your child

anou